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Friday 7 March 2014 3:53pm

Professor George Benwell
Professor George Benwell
Dean, Otago Business School

What is a leader?
Can leadership be taught?

These are perplexing questions, and possibly there is no definitive answer. But for a start consider some analogous questions.

What is a parent?
Can parenthood be taught?

Equally perplexing questions. But we may more easily accept that there are innate traits and abilities of animals and humans that create at least some parenting skills in all of us. Some of us may be better parents than others, some of us can possibly observe better parenting behaviours that what we ourselves achieve. So, in my view, we can learn to be a better parent, either by experience or learning.

I posit that leadership is the same. Leadership in its most basic form is a human trait. We simple folk, want to be part of the pack, nurtured, fledged and lead the clan onto the next generation. There is possibly a leadership gene, but that line of thinking I will leave to more erudite academics than myself. As with parenting, we then could recognise what is leadership, what is good leadership, who are good leaders and accept that leadership can be learned. Implementing that newly acquired knowledge is yet another challenge.

So may I turn to the some of the traits of a leader? There are books, nearly libraries of books on leadership, but I limit myself here to what I think are the five most important traits. A leader will display:

  1. A strength of vision and direct. It will be clear to all that this person knows where they are going and where they want us to go.
  2. Tenacity in their desire to realise that aspiration
  3. Infectious optimism that the aspiration can and will be achieved
  4. Empathy and understanding for the thoughts of those around them
  5. Kindness and a sense of responsibility for those who will be following

So now the task for those who want to be a leader or improve their leadership skills is to identify a person who displays these attributes and ask them to be your mentor. Have the courage to ask a leader to make you a leader.

Good luck.


Professor George Benwell
Dean, Otago Business School

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